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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Field Notes on the Cheetah's Need for Open Space


Plotting its next move, a cheetah perches on a termite mound. (Photo: Mark Seth Lender)

 

From the Cheetah’s point of view none of her gentler traits are particularly salutary. Cheetahs can only take small game -- what they can both outrun and grab by the throat – and to do that they need a particular set of conditions. First and foremost, space, but not just any space. Cheetah needs open space. And open space, thanks to human beings, is -- like Cheetah -- vanishing. 

All around the Maasai Mara the land is being fenced in. Fences mean cattle and cattle are a head-to-head competitor of the worst kind. They take both grass and water from the game and in disproportionate amount -- there are few grazing animals more inefficient than a cow, especially the rugged variety of the Maasai. The herders prize their cattle, and though their wrath is generally reserved for lions, they are instinctively wary of the great cats. Cows are wealth to Maasai, not just blood and milk and sometimes meat, but status. Fifty cows will always be better than twenty, one hundred better still. And for those who cannot afford cows there are goats, who chew the grasses right down to the root. 

And every day more fences.  

Fences do not make good neighbors when Cheetah is your neighbor and that neighbor needs to roam.

African Wildlife Foundation is one of the premier African-run conservation organizations, whose mission includes local partnerships across Africa in an attempt to find ways that wildlife and people can coexist, and benefit each other. To learn more visit: www.AWF.org

 


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